learningopportunities

Buncee: More than just a presentation tool!

There are a lot of great digital tools out there for educators to bring into their classrooms. When it comes to deciding on a specific tool to use, we must always think about our purpose and perhaps ask ourselves a few questions, such as: why are we looking for a digital tool, what are we hoping to accomplish by using it and how will it benefit students and learning? I’m often asked by colleagues either to recommend a new tool or direct them to something specific based on their requirements, such as video, audio, text and more. Because Buncee is such a versatile tool and offers so many options all-in-one, I find myself recommending it a lot. It is easy to get started with and full of choices for teachers and students.

Educators want to use tools that promote student choice and student voice and offer more than just one purpose. The reason I recommend Buncee is because it offers much more than simply being a way to create presentations. In addition to all of the wonderful things that can be created using Buncee, there are additional benefits for educators and students that might be overlooked or simply not thought of when getting started. For example, educators can meet the ISTE Standards for Students and Educators. By having students create with Buncee, students become empowered learners, creative communicators, innovative designers, knowledge constructors and engage in learning that meets each of the ISTE standards. With technology, we want to make sure that it is being used in a way that amplifies student voice and choice in learning.

However, Buncee does more than that. Beyond addressing the ISTE standards and providing students with more authentic and personalized learning experiences when creating with Buncee, there are other skills that are being addressed. In my own classroom, we have used Buncee for many different projects and even for project-based learning (PBL). My students created Buncees to share with their global peers in Argentina and Spain. Creating an “About Me” Buncee enabled all students to develop a more global understanding and become aware of cultural differences, as well as to develop empathy in the process.

Students enjoy creating with Buncee and even more than seeing their own creations, they really enjoy seeing what their classmates create. I have noticed that students become more comfortable with one another in class and start to build closer connections while working on their Buncees. Even the quietest students begin to ask questions, interact more and have been more engaged in creating when using Buncee than they had with other tools before. Students tell me that they enjoy teaching one another, learning about their classmates in unique ways, and feel like they are part of a classroom community.

Knowing that students are picking up on this has been a great way to foster the social-emotional skills (SEL) students need now and in the future. Buncee is so invested in providing a lot of options and opportunities for students and educators to enjoy learning, creating and growing together. Now Buncee has templates available to address SEL.

What is Social-emotional learning?

CASEL (The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning), formed in 1994, is an organization which actively works toward promoting the importance of developing SEL skills in education. SEL is focused on five competencies: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making. The development of these skills can benefit the level of student engagement as well, leading to higher academic achievement and reduce discipline issues in the classroom.

Providing opportunities for students to interact through the use of digital tools and activities in the classroom promotes the development of social-emotional learning skills. Using some of the Buncee templates and emojis, students can comfortably express how they are feeling, provide a quick check-in based on their level of understanding, share personality characteristics or likes and dislikes, or respond to questions in class, for a few options. Buncee is “giving a voice to the voiceless.”

In my own experience, I have seen students who have preferred to not speak out in class or who voiced that they were not creative or would not be able to do a presentation, design amazing Buncees and be excited to share with their classmates. Students build confidence while creating and the benefit is that they become more engaged in and excited to share their learning and interact with classmates. It helps to foster the development of skills such as problem-solving, working with different layouts, visualizing and displaying student learning.

It is always a good idea to ask students for feedback. I want to know what their thoughts are, if the tool or strategy is making a difference for them and if so, how. Here are some student thoughts about Buncee.

“It helps me to express my ideas more easily and make presentations which are much more interactive for myself and for my classmates.”

It is made in a way that allows students to make it really personal and specific to what they need. If students are enjoying their work and are able to make it their own, then they will be more willing to learn and will improve because of using Buncee.”

Hearing from students is important and making sure that all students feel comfortable expressing themselves is even more important. With Buncee, students have many choices to find what interests them and to express themselves in a way that is authentic, meaningful and personalized.

 

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When people find out that I am a teacher, one of the first things they say is “it must be nice to have your summers off.”  Yes, it is, but in all honesty, I would be fine if my school switched to year-round schooling. I enjoy being in the classroom and look forward to each day and what it brings, even the challenges that might pop up. More than anything, I love working with students and learning from them. My reason for loving the summer is not because I don’t have to go to work; it’s because it is an opportunity to have more time with family and friends and to take part in professional development and reflection.

Time for Reconnecting

Life gets so busy sometimes that before you know it, weeks and months pass by and you might find that you haven’t had a lot of time to spend with family and friends.  Of course, technology helps us to stay connected more than we could before. Whether we use text messaging, different apps, FaceTime or even a hangout to see our family and friends, it’s not the same as time together in person. More days at home means more time for family and friends.

I’m also excited for conference season to be here and to have time to spend with some of my closest friends learning together and relaxing. It was an amazing week at ISTE 2019 in Philadelphia and it is hard to believe that it has already passed! Time to start prepping for ISTE 2020!

I presented several sessions while at ISTE, which is such a fantastic conference that brings so many educators from around the world together every year.  We had so much fun and some of these pictures totally capture that well. It is great to spend time with my 53s and the 4OCFPLN and meet some PLN for the first time in person.  I loved getting to finally meet (in person) Elisabeth Bostwick, Rich Czyz, Tamara Letter, Scott Nunes, David Lockett,  Annick Rauch, Stacey Roshan, the Gimkit team of Josh and Jeff, and a few members of the 4OCFPLN that I only knew through Voxer!

Now I am prepping for the next learning adventure which is coming up in 2 weeks. I’m fortunate to be part of the EdWriteNow Volume 3 group of authors who will meet in Boston to write the book together. An added bonus is that I will get to spend extra time with my good friend Jennifer Casa-Todd while there. After Boston, a few of us are going on a writing retreat to Nashville. While each of us will be working on our respective books, it will be nice to spend time together!

Knowing that I will spend time with my core groups, the 53s and the #4OCFPLN, plus meet other members of my PLN for the first time, in real life, is one of my favorite things about the summer.   

 

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Time for Recharging

Summer is a time for a lot of things, one of the most important is self-care and recharging. So doing some normal summer things like sleeping in late, catching up with friends and family, going on vacations, ditching our devices and not worrying about setting the alarm are important for our self-care. Summer is also a valuable time for teachers to do even more on a personal and professional basis like think about their practice and take advantage of the opportunities that are out there for personal and professional development and growth. Attending conferences like ISTE give me a renewed excitement for the work that I do. My energy rarely dips when I am at these events, surrounded by friends and learning.

Time for Learning

A more flexible schedule for the summer means more time for attending conferences or webinars, joining in book studies or Voxer groups, or connecting within different learning communities. It might be easier to get involved in a Twitter chat, whatever it is during the school year that just doesn’t seem to fit as part of your routine, make it part of your summer routine.

 

There are lots of opportunities out there and my advice is to decide what is best for you. Do you want to be in one Voxer group or join one book study? Then make that your focus. Or maybe you want to start a blog or create a  new website. It’s up to you because it is your time to decide how to spend your summer break. I’m thrilled to be part of the summer BookcampPD book study with my book In Other Words. Looking forward to discussing the six books included in the study and of course, the two weeks in July (July 15-28), when we get to talk about my book and share ideas and takeaways from it.

 

Enjoy yourself

Each summer gets better and better, and it’s not because I traveled and spent hours on beaches, or to the contrary, kept idle. It is because I have used the time to learn more, to read, to connect, to reflect and to prepare for the next year.  My summer goal is to work so I can start stronger and be better than I was the year before. Whatever you do this summer, make time to recharge, connect and learn. And don’t set the alarm 🙂

 

 

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The post is sponsored by 2gnōMe. Opinions are my own.

Personalized Learning for Teachers

Earlier this year, I was seeking guest posts for the monthly ISTE Teacher Education Network newsletter. One of the emails that I received included a link to a platform called 2gnōMe. I had not heard of it, so before responding, I took time to explore the website to better understand how it was being used by educators. After looking over the website and watching the video on the landing page, I learned that 2gnōMe is a platform that enables school leaders to provide personalized professional development for educators. The benefit of 2gnōMe is that the platform helps educators to ideally avoid, or at least reduce, the one-size-fits-all approach to PD and break away from what has become known as the “sit and get” professional development. For administrators, it enables school districts to clarify what individual teachers might need from available resources and personalize their learning experience, at scale, to measure its usefulness and impact.

The background

I contacted Ilya Zeldin, the CEO of 2gnōMe, to learn more about the company’s background, the purpose of the platform and to watch its demo. During our conversation, Ilya shared his vision for the platform and his goals for moving forward and getting the platform into school districts and learning providers. When he began designing the 2gnōMe platform, he focused on human connection and empowerment. Ilya said:

“That was the reason I developed the 2gnōMe concept. I would like to re-imagine the learning process for all adults, but the stakes are just too high with teachers. While teachers are asked to differentiate learning for students in their classroom, they rarely get the same kind of personalized professional learning when it comes to their own needs.”

According to Ilya, 2gnōMe enhances individual skills awareness and uses data to provide teachers and school-level leaders with crucial information to support teachers’ efforts to improve their practice, implement innovative practices, and achieve better results for their students.

During the demo, I saw the example of the 2gnōMe approach and platform based on the ISTE Standards for Educators. As teachers first reflect on their classroom practice, the data is compiled to then provide a more personalized learning experience for them. There is enhanced skills awareness — (the missing piece) after the self-reflection about the teaching practice. The underlying purpose is to impact how teachers can upgrade their skills and to narrow the growing gap between teachers and students when it comes to the integration of technology. By leading teachers through the assessments and providing an easy to navigate the platform, it creates additional opportunities for teachers to build technology skills. More than just content, 2gnōMe has been referred to as a “learning experience platform.”

How does it work?

2gnōMe offers a unique teacher-centric approach and can simplify leadership’s efforts based on their specific PD framework or standards used with teachers. As an ISTE member, I was interested in learning more about its use with the ISTE Standards, which is one of the options available. Using the platform, teachers take assessments and the results help districts scale personalized learning for every teacher. By addressing their learning needs, the program enhances self-awareness about critical skills and behaviors of teachers.

In my experience using the platform, I worked through each of the ISTE Standards for Educators by completing each assessment. The assessments required me to respond to a series of statements by selecting an option based on my perceived skill or comfort level in various areas. The questions and ratings pushed me to really reflect on my practice and consider areas that I need to grow professionally.

What is impressive is how the platform then takes the responses and determines areas where teachers can work to improve. For teachers such as myself, using 2gnōMe enables me to better hone in on my level of skills in each of the different areas, in particular with the ISTE Standards for Educators. For example, once I completed the “Learner” standard, I received information related to the teaching competencies and results that include a summary of strengths and areas that I might need additional support. When the results are received, personalized learning recommendations are provided, which the teacher can view within the platform or click the link to view the webpage externally.

Navigating the platform is easy and the data is displayed in a way that enables you to process the information quickly and understand the next steps. Returning to the platform and finding your results, summary, and portfolio is easy. Being able to review the results, use the summary for further self-reflection and even add items to a portfolio will empower teachers to advocate for their own professional development and also foster peer collaborations through the platform.

Features

Areas that caught my attention were how quickly the additional learning resources are compiled and available immediately to the educator. Having these so readily accessible enables each individual to explore different tools and learning providers available for professional development without the need for teachers, already short on time, to locate resources for themselves.

The Dashboard includes Goal Setting, Professional Learning, and Lifelong Learning and within each focus area, a list of the results for each are provided. Along with the scale showing your individual rating, an average rating is included which shows how you compare with peers. These are great points to use for building your professional collaborations and even mentorships with colleagues.

Benefits for the Educator Community

As a teacher, what I appreciate most about the 2gnōMe platform is that it coordinates a more holistic and continuous learning experience for educators. Just as our students need personalized learning experiences, educators need the same opportunity to build their own skills in our practice. Through 2gnōMe, teachers are able to self-assess and gain access to the right resources that meet their needs, without having to do all of the work. It analyzes all of the data and provides/creates a more personalized experience by gathering from the resources that are built within or made accessible through the platform.

  • Customizable platform to rubrics for learning.
  • Establishes a baseline of skills
  • Enhances teacher self-awareness
  • Promotes teacher-agency
  • Identifies teacher readiness
  • Provides access to portfolios, credentials, and PLCs
  • Personalized learning for educators at scale
  • Recommends courses for professional learning

For school administrators responsible for making decisions about the types of professional development to provide for teachers, using the 2gnōMe platform helps to simplify the decision-making process. It empowers education leaders to support teachers with personalized learning at scale, across their professional development systems. Using the data, administrators can see the type of learning that each educator might need or benefit from, and it personalizes the learning experience for each educator as they work through the different assessments in the platform.

Administrators recognize that teachers have different skill sets and they need to be able to identify what teachers know and what they need, to be able to provide the best learning experiences for students. To do this, there needs to be a consistent method that can customize the personal and professional learning experience for teachers. With 2gnōMe this is possible through:

  • Needs Assessment
  • Personalized Professional Learning
  • Resource Allocation Insights
  • Teacher Induction & Retention
  • Custom PLCs
  • Digital Portfolios for Teachers

Using 2gnōMe, teachers will engage in authentic, meaningful and personalized professional development in a supportive learning space. Together, teachers and schools will improve their practice, implement innovative methods, and achieve better results.

Learn more about district benefits and sign up for a Pilot here.

Be sure to follow @2gnōMe and meet up while attending ISTE.

See the interview with Jeff Bradbury and Ilya, Teachercast interview  ISTE 2018

This post is sponsored by Socrates. All opinions are my own.

When I think about trying some new tech tool, I first consider my purpose when deciding which tool to try. As educators, our goal should be to leverage technology in a way that helps to empower students, promote personalized and student-driven learning, and amplify their learning potential.

As the school year winds down, I think we have a great opportunity to provide some new, authentic learning experiences for our students. We can use these last few weeks of school to do some really cool things. If you notice that students are kind of drained or their motivation or engagement seems to be lacking, then I think it’s the perfect opportunity to try something that you’ve had on your mind but never quite found the time, or to try something new that you recently learned about. Either way, in my own experience, I have seen improvements in these areas by providing access to different digital tools for students to choose from and that meet their needs and interests. Of course, finding something that enables students to have fun while learning is never a bad thing. I recently found something that will definitely help: Socrates

Why Socrates?

Socrates provides a unique game-based learning platform that is focused on differentiating instruction for students. By using Socrates, teachers have access to a wealth of resources and ways to better engage students in learning, helping them to build their skills in content areas such as math and English through the use of games. Because the platform uses artificial intelligence, it is able to adjust to student needs by creating an individualized learning path in real-time, which makes Socrates stand out from other learning platforms. It is easy for teachers to track student progress and quickly identify where students might need some extra help or instruction. It enables students to progress at a pace that meets their individual needs and provides them with the right supplemental resources they need when they need them.

Getting started with Socrates is easy!

Finding time is always a challenge with so much to do in our school days and prepping throughout the week. However, with Socrates, teachers can quickly set up an account, add students to classes and start assigning free practice, homework, and tests in no time at all. The Teacher and School Command Center Modules in Socrates provide a powerful teacher assistant that informs teachers when and where each student needs help. Being able to act on that information quickly is key for teachers, and this is where the AI makes an impact on student learning and growth. Get started today! (link)

Worried about having devices that are compatible? Socrates can be used on a PC, Mac, Chromebooks, Android, and iOS devices. Students can complete their work in class or on their own schedule wherever they have access to a device.

How to get students started

To add new students, simply follow these steps:

1. Go to your teacher Dashboard and select “Manage.”

2. Click the student icon to add a new student.

3. Enter student first and last name.

4. Add a student ID (at least 4 digits).

5. Select the grade level for the student.

6. Click “Create a student account and add to the roster.”

Making changes to student account information is easy using the Command Center. Teachers can specify a grade level, an active area of study, learning style, and gameplay (ranging from High gameplay to No games). Assessing student progress and making changes to their learning profile is easy to do within the Command Center.

Free practice, homework, and tests

It is easy to find the right activities for students and to start a class or set up activities for students to work on at a later time.

To get started:

  1. On the dashboard, select “Assignments.”
  2. Once assignment opens, select the Area of Study (K through 5th) and the content area (Math or Language Arts)
  3. Select the topic, and continue making selections for the specific content material.
  4. On the Assignment details, change the name, the number of questions, add a start and end date if applicable.
  5. Choose to assign as Free Practice, Homework, or to Print.
  6. Once selected, the assignment is added to the student____________ and a box prompts you with “OK” to signify the assignment has been created.

First impressions

Before getting students logged in, we discussed artificial intelligence and how it was used in the Socrates platform. Students were excited to get started. I was impressed by how quickly I could create accounts for my students and get them logged in. They were able to navigate the platform without my assistance and enjoyed having so many choices in which games to try first. Being able to track their progress and make adjustments so quickly is definitely a benefit of the Socrates platform.

If you have not yet tried it, I recommend getting started here. Socrates offers a 30-day free trial. I encourage you to try it out for the rest of the school year and see what students think and reflect on how it benefits learning now and through the summer.

For more information, see the blog, be sure to share your feedback and also follow Socrates on Twitter: @learnwithsocra1

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With the summer break approaching, educators and students alike could use some fresh ideas to keep the energy high and finish the year strong. I have found that the end of the school year is a great time to try some new activities and tools and use it as an opportunity to try things that may have been on a list somewhere, but that you did not have the chance to do. Why not try some different methods and different tools to help students to review in preparation for final exams, create a project, or before moving on to the next level of a course. Also, depending on the course taught, some of these ideas can be carried into the summer, as a way to avoid the “summer slide.”

There are many options for getting students more engaged in learning, some rely on tech tools and others are simple hands-on activities that have the students deciding how to use the materials to learn. Regardless of the content area or level taught, technology can open up new possibilities that might just be the catalyst to spark curiosity in students or to help to engage them more in learning, and then their own motivation can take over.  I decided to try some different strategies, tools, student developed ideas, and more importantly, to step aside more in the classroom and let the students lead.

5 Ideas for Engaging Students

Here are five different ways that I found to bring about positive changes in the classroom, engage students more in learning, and also build relationships within our classroom. Hopefully, you will be able to try a few of these and push through strong until the end of the year!

  1. Games and Music: Earlier this year, I started to use more music and games in the classroom. The students became more involved in creating their own games and also writing some songs, to use as mnemonic devices. Why not have students create their own song using course related vocabulary, and set it to the music of a randomly selected song. It can be a really authentic way for them to create, have fun and remember the content in a more meaningful way. For my class, the most popular song was “Despacito” and students did a great job!
  2. Learning Stations: Try creating stations in your classroom by randomly dividing students into small groups, and have a different activity ready for each station. I like to mix the tech tools with traditional tools, so students can do some hands-on creating where students make flashcards or other visual which can be used as a resource, complete a worksheet or use dry erase boards and come up with a way to practice. For a few tech ideas, try setting up some iPads and giving students a game of Quizizz or Gimkit to play, or an interactive lesson using EDPuzzle or Playposit.  Using stations in class leads to more opportunities for student interaction and for the teacher to work directly with each group and each student. GImkitCreateGimkitLIbrary
  3. New Tech tools: Why not take the last couple of weeks of school as an opportunity to try out some of the newer tech tools or revisit some of the popular tech tools that may have some updates.  I try to learn as much as I can about new tools, but I am eager to have my students try them in class and to give me feedback on what they think. Here are a few of the most recent tools we have tried. Each tool makes it easy to get started either by having a library of ready-made games or by integrating with a tool like Quizlet, where study sets can be used to create a game. QuizalizeGimKit, and Flipquiz. Each of these is a game-based learning tool, and offer a new and exciting way to practice the course material, and also to help students continue to build peer relationships in the classroom. null
  4. Augmented and Virtual Reality: There is a lot of talk today about the benefit of using augmented and virtual reality tools in the classroom. There are so many different tools to choose from,  but I will recommend three tools to check out that can create more immersive learning experiences. Students can create using MetaverseAppCoSpacesEDUand also creating or joining lessons in Nearpod. Students are very creative and offering them a chance to design an augmented or virtual reality experience, in which they include the content material and also create additional learning resources for the classroom is so beneficial. Again, there are samples available in the library for each of these tools and creating with them is something that the students catch on to rather quickly. If you are looking for a different way to do a project, and to engage students more, then trying some AR/VR might be the way to go. Using Nearpod as a way to have students work through an interactive lesson, and then adding in 3D objects or Virtual Field Trips will really help students to better experience what they are studying. The next step would be to have the students create their own Nearpod lesson for class, multi-media, all in one tool. IMG_20170530_145553.jpgnull
  5. Podcast, Video Responses and More! Ever thought about having students create a podcast to discuss a topic, perhaps interview a “special guest”, maybe someone who takes on the role of a famous person being studied, or shares their thoughts about something covered in the class. It could be a good experience for students to practice interviewing someone, or even doing their own podcast, as a way to build some confidence and have fun while doing so. Maybe use Synth or Flipgrid and have students post responses to a question of the week, or have each student post a question for the classmates to respond to. It can be a different way to engage all students in a discussion, promote student voice and implement a new tech tool in the classroom.

In trying one or all of these activities, students have an opportunity to be more active in the classroom, work together, build relationships, collaborate and engage in more authentic learning experiences. If you need some ideas or would like to see some student examples, let me know. The best part of trying new things in the classroom is learning right along with the students, and sometimes, they learn before you. And this is one of the best parts!

NoteAffect: A better way to engage

This post is sponsored by NoteAffect. All opinions are my own.

The Future of Educational Technology Conference (FETC) held at the end of January has become one of my favorite conferences because of the diverse opportunities available to explore emerging technologies and to network. One of my favorite things about FETC is exploring the edtech startups to find out what new tools and trends are out there and to learn some of the stories behind the creation of these tools. It is a great opportunity to see the different start-ups in the Pitch Fest competition and hear their passions for education.

One that caught my attention this year was NoteAffect, an interactive learning platform aimed at promoting and understanding student engagement. The platform empowers educators by providing many options for delivering a lecture and includes live polling, questions, analytics and more, to enhance the learner experience. With time so limited at the conference, I explored the platform on my own and then contacted Jay Tokosch,Founder and CEO of NoteAffect, to set up a demo.

The story behind NoteAffect

When I spoke with Jay, I learned that he got started in this business by founding Core-apps, one of the leading event management systems in 2009. Core-apps was the first company to create a mobile app used for event management. So if you’ve been to conferences or trade shows, and used a conference app to build your schedule, you may have using Core-apps. Having ten years of experience with a highly engaging event management app, Jay has designed an equally powerful learning tool for education. When I asked Jay about how he came up with the idea for NoteAffect, he told me that he got the idea after observing his son preparing for an exam. Jay noticed his son pulling out a spiral notebook, some printed Powerpoint presentations and other documents to study for his college engineering exam. As he studied, his son was going back and forth between all of those materials, trying to match everything up to study. Jay decided to “fix that problem” by designing something that could store all of the information in one place and make it easier for students to study.

The design of NoteAffect is quite simple and easy to navigate, which makes it a great choice for all teachers, whether they are beginners or advanced users when it comes to implementing technology in the classroom. By using a robust tool like NoteAffect, teachers have immediate access to real-time data that enables them to provide the right instructional supports and make adjustments on the fly as the lecture continues. The goal of NoteAffect is to empower teachers to provide the best learning experience and options for students and to close the gap that happens when students are absent from class. While students can easily get the notes or look over a presentation, without the additional resources added in and the interactive piece that NoteAffect provides, students will be missing out and cannot reach their fullest potential.

What does NoteAffect offer?

NoteAffect is more than simply a way to deliver a lecture. It offers digital interactive learning that is available to students whether live in class or for later viewing at a time that meets their schedule. It is a multi-purpose platform with capabilities to facilitate communication, collaboration and increase student engagement in learning. NoteAffect creates a virtual space for students to fully engage in the lesson, whether participating in class or viewing it at a later time.

When I first explored NoteAffect, what I immediately noticed was how easy it was to set up my courses, add students, locate my lectures, and navigate through the platform. Having time to explore NoteAffect closely, I thought about my own college experience years ago and how beneficial a tool like this would have been for some of the more challenging courses that I had. Although we had access to lecture notes made available after class, being able to interact with the content during class would have increased my understanding and helped with content retention.

Another benefit of Noteaffect is for increasing student engagement. For a long time, I struggled with student engagement and reached out to colleagues and tried different resources to see if I could engage students more. While the methods definitely improved student engagement, I needed more data to work from. Using NoteAffect enables you to focus more closely on student engagement by exploring the analytics available for each lecture and each student.

With NoteAffect, tracking student engagement is easier and it is also a great way to reflect on the teaching practices being used in the classroom.

I will continue exploring NoteAffect and gather some feedback from my students. Check into NoteAffect here and get started with a demo. My next post will highlight some of the features and offer some tips for getting started.

​​Storybird in the Foreign Language Classroom

 


I found Storybird a few years ago while completing graduate coursework, and was searching for a different way to present the information, that would be informative, engaging and memorable. I found Storybird and after creating my own book, have relied on it as a top choice for student projects in my classroom.

As a foreign language teacher, I have my students engage in diverse activities to help them learn the material and want the experiences to be meaningful, personal and fun. Because of technology today, I now have the opportunity to offer my students a variety of choices for completing projects and other assessments for class. With the increase in digital tools for classroom integration, there are options available to meet diverse student interests and needs. I want to know what they have learned and can do with the material and being able to provide choices for them, which enhance their ability to be creative, to enjoy the work and watch the learning that occurs because it is more meaningful. Giving students a choice in how to show what they have learned offers a lot of options today.

Storybird is very helpful in my Spanish class. It makes it easy to create colorful and informative projects. I like using Storybird because it is easy and straight-forward to use. It was also great to see my story come to life, and to have a book with my name on it. — Ricky, high school student

One of the favorites for my students is to create an illustrated book using Storybird. It really does not matter what the topic of our unit is, there are so many options available for students to find something that fits right in with the theme of what we are studying. For this reason, I love offering it as one of their choices because they can find something fun to work with while building their language skills. They can choose from so many templates to create an engaging, vibrant book, write their story in Spanish and see it come to life with the variety of images available to them. Storybird helps the students to build their skills and to create something that they can share with others and have made into a beautiful book as evidence of their learning.

Storybird is one of my go to tools when creating a project. It is fun and easy to use, with beautiful artwork that aids in the story writing process. I have used Storybird for several school projects and for fun. It is a well designed application that allows the author to choose exactly what they want.
— Dana, high school student

An added benefit is that in addition to displaying these on the Smartboard in the classroom for all students to see and learn from, we can have their books printed and displayed in the classroom. What could be better than seeing the books written by your students in Spanish on display in your classroom? The books can be used as learning materials for future classes and exemplify what personalized learning and having a choice can do to engage students and increase their learning potential. The students can be creative and have fun learning in the process.

Storybird is really fun. I love the groups of pictures you can choose from for creating your book. The website is really easy to use, and different from other programs I’ve used in the past. Being able to purchase a paper copy of your book is a really great feature. — Maddi, high school student

Some fun examples we have used in Spanish are projects to describe one’s family and create a family album and also to describe preparing for a special event and one’s daily routine. Students have fun selecting their pictures to represent the members of the family or activities in their daily routine, and as the teacher, I enjoy seeing their finished work and knowing that not only did they build their language skills, they had fun in the process and created something that they can share with others and author their own book.

 

Toward the end of the past school year, I noticed a decrease in student engagement, especially while I responded to the question of a student seated close to me, students around the room became distracted or stopped listening. Trying to get the students to refocus sometimes presented a challenge and the result was a loss of valuable instruction time. Another concern was how students had been treating one another. I  often overheard conversations in the hallways, or witnessed unkind interactions in the classroom, or had students who sought help in dealing with different situations.

There were two issues that I needed to resolve: regain the valuable instruction time that was being lost and help students to develop more positive, collaborative peer relationships. How could I connect students more to the content and to one another, so they could work together to foster a more positive classroom? After some brainstorming, and reaching out to my PLN,  I decided to first focus on ways to promote collaboration and to step out of my role of “leader” in the classroom by stepping aside.

The first changes:

My first realization was that I needed to shift roles in my classroom. I needed to get out of the way, and students needed to do more than simply sit for the entire class. To get started, look at your own classroom. Where are you and the students spending the class period? Think about how you can open up more space and create a collaborative setting for students. Think about how you can involve the students in more “active learning” that will lead to better student engagement.

One morning, I looked at the physical space of my classroom and decided to break apart the rows of desks. By doing this, it created more flexible spaces for students to interact, to create and lead, and do more than just sit and listen. Students need opportunities to work with their peers through lessons and engage in activities where they can master the content together, and that will provide opportunities to develop their interpersonal skills, self-awareness and social awareness of others.

 

Making these changes can feel uncomfortable because it means going against what likely has been the traditional classroom structure. However, many teachers have moved toward flexible learning spaces, creating a more student-centered and student-driven classroom. A classroom which moves away from simply lecturing, reviewing homework, passing out materials, assigning new homework, and repeating this same routine the very next day. While this process may promote the acquisition and application of knowledge, it does not effectively promote collaboration, invite student input, nor foster development of vital SEL (social-emotional learning) skills.

CASEL (The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning), formed in 1994, is an organization which actively works toward promoting the importance of developing SEL skills in education. SEL is focused on five competencies: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness,  relationship skills, and responsible decision making. The development of these skills can benefit the level of student engagement as well, leading to higher academic achievement and reduce discipline issues in the classroom. To promote the development of SEL, here are some ideas and additional resources to get started.

Practical ways to promote SEL:

  • Icebreakers: I started this school year with fun icebreakers, to get to know one another and to find out what students had in common. Why? It all starts with relationships, building a connection with peers and the teacher, and using this to connect with the content area. Returning after an extended holiday break, doing even one icebreaker can be a good way to welcome students back to the classroom, to ease into the daily routine and to start the year fresh by working on relationships. Perhaps have students share what they did over break, show a picture, talk about favorite foods for holidays even, and let students make connections on their own.
  • Games and activities: Providing opportunities for students to interact through the use of games and activities in the classroom promotes the development of social-emotional learning skills. There are many online tools available to help you get started. For elementary and middle school, Centervention provides free online games, activities, and printables for teaching students about SEL. Gaming helps students to learn to problem solve, collaborate, think critically, and develop empathy through scenarios within the game itself, or as a result of being part of a team. It creates a sense of community and belonging, which foster the social-emotional skills students need. Even by using Minecraft, educators have seen a connection between the benefits of gaming for learning and the development of SEL skills.
  • Learning Stations: Something that has really made a difference in my classroom has been using learning stations. I started the year with rows and decided one morning, that the rows had to go. I quickly set up clusters of desks or “stations” to accommodate three students each, with four extra desks grouped together in the center. At each station, students spend 10-14 minutes doing a hands-on activity like a worksheet, creating flashcards, watching a video, playing a game or simply coming up with their own ways to practice. Deciding upon the activities takes some planning, especially when trying this for the first time, but it is well worth it. Start by explaining the “stations”, involving students in the discussion and asking for feedback. When we explain our goals and share any fears we may have, we are modeling “self-awareness” and “self-management”. By using stations, we also have more time to interact with each student and group, work on relationships and foster a deeper understanding of the content as well as connecting with one another and creating a more positive classroom culture.

Challenges and solutions:

  • Groups: The first few class periods there were complaints. Students wanted to work with their friends and others wanted to work alone. It can be awkward if you are the only one who doesn’t find somebody to work with, but it can also be a challenge to work with a group when you may end up being the only one doing the work. Assigning random groups can help alleviate some of these uncomfortable feelings, even though in life and for the future, students may face the same challenges and uncomfortable moments, not having a choice in collaborative work. However, for the time being, the importance is to help students to develop interpersonal skills that will enable them to be successful in the future, to develop the social and emotional learning skills, especially in terms of relationships, decision-making and developing a self- awareness.
  • Timing: It can be a challenge at first to know how much time to provide for each station. I started by spending ten minutes reviewing material, asking questions, or doing an activity with the whole class, before starting stations. I tried giving 15 minutes for each, so students would work through two each day. Some students finished early and wanted to move on. To work through this, I would use the time to speak with each group or individual students, and then make adjustments during the next station rotation. There is always room to improve, but the important thing is remembering to be flexible and open to changes that will positively impact student learning and relationships.

Benefits:

  • Student engagement: Students have been more engaged in learning, and have come in to tell me how much they look forward to coming to class. Because of the different activities within the stations, students participate more because they are active and moving, and know that each station offers a new way to learn.
  • Student leaders: Students are offering to help one another, to explain concepts, and to cheer each other on. They keep each other on task and by working in these small groups, there are fewer distractions than working as a whole group. Each small group can ask questions, receive individualized feedback because I can freely move around the classroom and clear up any misunderstandings.
  • Teacher-student relationships: Students are getting timely, authentic and personal feedback. By using learning stations, more time is student-focused and those individual conversations can happen as needed, to help students to be successful and be more confident.
  • Student learning: In terms of academic achievement, the participation and results of recent assessments are the highest they have been. Students enjoy coming to class because they know they’re going to be leading and making decisions about their learning, in a way that is comfortable, flexible and fun. The learning experience is more authentic and meaningful for students. Research has shown the positive benefits of incorporating SEL into the curriculum.
  • Student behaviors: As for the class distractions and the negative interactions that existed before, both have decreased tremendously. It is not something that is going to change overnight but what matters is that we make constant progress. We are learning and becoming better together.

Updated from an original post on DefinedSTEM.

Technology creates many opportunities for teachers to provide innovative learning experiences for students. An even greater benefit is that these learning experiences can take place regardless of the time and place, and offer students more personalized opportunities for interacting with their peers and the content. With so many choices now available, sometimes deciding on a specific digital tool or a type of tool can present a challenge.

I am often asked about where a teacher should start when either implementing technology for the first time or creating a blended learning environment. What I suggest is to first think about some of the learning activities that are already being used in the classroom. What has seemed to work the best and what are some that possibly either take a lot of time to create or that don’t offer students a lot in the way of choices.

Another consideration is focusing on your goals and what you are hoping to accomplish by using technology. Is it to create an access point where students can ask questions, obtain class resources or interact with their peers? Or is it to provide students with different methods to practice the content and also to apply their learning in more authentic ways?

Here are four strategies for helping students to communicate, collaborate and create in the traditional learning space as well as beyond the classroom setting. By trying some of these ideas, you will see some positive changes that promote student voice, create more time for you to interact with and support students in learning, and it will help students to build digital citizenship skills as they learn to leverage the technology and navigate in the digital world.

Improve Communication Through Effective Technology Use

One way that I have used technology that has had a big impact in my classroom is by using a messaging tool. A few years ago I noticed a disconnect with students and the class, either they were absent and could not get materials or they had questions after the school day had ended. By using messaging apps, I can send reminders, answer student questions and provide feedback when students need it. You can also use some of these apps to connect with families as an alternative to email. There are a lot of options available and your choices will depend on the level and area you teach and whether your goal is to set up communication between students and you or with parents. I use Remind with students and parents, and BloomzApp is another option for creating a space to interact with parents. Either of these is good for providing students and parents with live feedback. It is easy to sign up for either of these using any device, and privacy and security are provided.

However,  I was recently looking at communication tools and thinking about promoting family engagement and came across ParentSquare before attending FETC in January. ParentSquare is more than simply a one-way communication tool. It is a multi-purpose platform with capabilities to facilitate communication, collaboration and increase family engagement in schools. ParentSquare is for use in grades PreK-12, geared toward streamlining parent notifications, increasing participation and family engagement in the school community and more. It can be used by students, teachers, staff members, administrators, and parents, and it creates a virtual space where so many vital communications and interactions can be completed. 

 

ParentSquare provides a consistent and reliable way to communicate within the school and school district, fostering and building the relationships that promote better communication, student success, and family engagement.

Enhance Collaboration Through Digital Learning Spaces

By establishing a specific location for students to access class resources, find out about assignments, and to ask questions, we can provide the support that students need to be successful. Some of the ways that I have used Edmodo and Google Classroom are to curate and provide resources, post daily assignments or reminders, announce upcoming class events, and to be accessible for student questions. Depending on the platform you use, it is easy to update the site and it is also a good way to help parents stay informed of what is going on in the classroom. It can be a collaborative learning space for students to interact with their peers or to connect globally using additional digital tools that are all housed within one learning space.  Tools like Edmodo, a blogging site, Google Classroom or creating a standalone website will help to create a connection between you, the students, and their learning.

Foster Active Discussions

Sometimes you may want to have students brainstorm an idea, participate in a scavenger hunt, share a learning experience, or just respond to a question. While we can always use the traditional tools for this in class, sometimes we may want the discussion to go beyond the class time and space. I would recommend trying either Padlet or Synth. There are so many ways to use Padlet, that if you want students to post images, record audio, upload video, or simply respond to a question, it offers all of these options in one tool. Students have come up with some great ideas for using Padlet, such as building a digital portfolio, creating a multimedia presentation, or presenting their Project Based Learning. It is a versatile tool that many educators may already be using, but may not be aware of other innovative ways to use Padlet.

Also by using Synth, a tool for podcasting, educators can provide daily class updates, add links or resources to supplement what was done in class, and even interact with other students in classrooms around the world. It enables discussions to happen at any time and is an easy tool to use for promoting discussions and helping students to share ideas. There are many ways that these tools can also add to the organization in the classroom by providing written or verbal directions and ways to reinforce instruction.

 

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Enhance Visualizations and Presentations

Some students are visual learners and having tools which enable them to display different types of information and content, they will be able to retain the content in a more authentic and meaningful way as they create. Infographics are useful for so many class assignments and projects that are student created, but they are beneficial for teachers to create a course syllabus, make visuals for the classroom, or to create a flipped lesson and display all of the learning materials in one graphic. Beyond creating representations of learning, they are useful for sharing information and offering ways for students or parents to contact you or access class materials. Some of the options available are BunceeCanva, Piktochart, Smore, and Visme. It is always good practice to learn with and from the students, so try creating some new materials for your classroom as well. Perhaps create a class newsletter, or make some signs that will be useful for your learning space.

 

 

There are many ideas for how to expand the learning space and to set up different learning opportunities for students. These are just a few of the ideas that we have used and that have worked well in our classroom. Sometimes we just need to brainstorm a little or, if you want to find new ways to use some digital tools in your classroom, try asking your students. Students come up with really creative ideas and by involving them in some of the classroom decisions, they will feel more valued and have a more meaningful learning experience.

 

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This post is sponsored by ParentSquare. All opinions are my own.

For the past three years, I have enjoyed attending the Future of Educational Technology Conference (FETC) held in Orlando at the end of January. It has become one of my favorite conferences because of the diverse opportunities available to explore emerging technologies and to network. One of my favorite things about FETC is seeing the new tools and exploring different options for my students, as well as finding some ideas to share with members of my PLN.

In the middle of January, I started to receive flyers from edtech companies who would be at FETC. My habit is to check out their website and then make time to stop by their booth and have a conversation to learn more. This year, I also received one email, from Anupama Vaid, Founder and President of ParentSquare.

Her email invited FETC attendees to stop by a hospitality suite hosted by ParentSquare, to learn more about the platform and spend time networking. Because of my schedule, I would not be able to attend, so I emailed Anu to introduce myself and make an initial connection. We had hoped to meet while there, but of course, time flies when you are at FETC and we missed the opportunity to connect in person. With a call setup for a few weeks later, I was glad to have more time to explore ParentSquare on my own before “meeting” with Anu earlier this month.

The story behind ParentSquare

Beyond knowing what a particular tool does or how a platform works and the benefit for students, I really enjoy getting to know and connect with the people behind these tools. Understanding their story and motivation for creating their product helps to make a more authentic connection with them and to see if my goals as a teacher are in alignment with their purpose so I can provide the best options for my students.

I enjoyed having the opportunity to learn about the start of ParentSquare and the growth that it has seen over the past eight years. Anu shared the story behind ParentSquare and her passion for the work that she does is clear. As a parent, Anu often received a lot of different messages and communications from her children’s’ school. While receiving the information was not a problem, the variety and inconsistency of formats (email, paper, newsletters, even Google groups) being used in schools was a problem. Parents had to keep up with and know the practices for communicating with each teacher.

Anu thought there had to be a better, more consistent way and she made it her goal to design something that would facilitate all of these vital communications in a more accessible and simplified way, that everyone (families, teachers, and administrators) could access. By using one tool, there is consistency, reliability and it promotes more equity when everyone has the same options for staying informed and feeling connected to the school. Anu wanted to “get everyone to be on the same platform, working together toward a common goal,” to unite all stakeholders in the educational community.

Starting with four schools during the first two years, ParentSquare has grown across the United States and is now being used in more than 1500 schools in 36 states. Moving forward, Anu hopes to connect with more schools and educators, to communicate in more effective ways so that together we can provide the best learning experience for students and the most support for their families.

What does ParentSquare offer?

ParentSquare is more than simply a one-way communication tool. It is a multi-purpose platform with capabilities to facilitate communication, collaboration and increase family engagement in schools. ParentSquare is for use in grades PreK-12, geared toward streamlining parent notifications, increasing participation and family engagement in the school community and more. It can be used by students, teachers, staff members, administrators, and parents, and it creates a virtual space where so many vital communications and interactions can be completed. It truly fosters a learning community.

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When I explored ParentSquare, what I noticed first is the setup of the landing page and how easy it is to locate the information you are looking for. It is a versatile tool that helps to facilitate many different interactions and increase communication between home, school and the community. Having time to explore ParentSquare closely, I thought about the tools that I use for communicating with students and families, and realized that rather than using multiple different tools, I could use ParentSquare to do all of that and more.

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With ParentSquare, communicating is easy. You can quickly exchange information, share photos, engage in two-way conversations with parents, plan events, to name just a few of the options, and I was amazed at how easy it was to find what I needed. You can see right away how beneficial it is for schools and families. If you find yourself or your school using multiple different apps to keep track of correspondence, announce events, share files and photos, send messages, or even ask for volunteers, ParentSquare enables you to use just one tool that facilitates so much within the school community.

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There are three main areas that ParentSquare provides: Communication, Resources and Participation with many options available within each.

The landing page is easy to navigate to keep track of events, messages, upcoming activities like fundraisers or school events.

To communicate, you can send or schedule a post, create an alert, or even send a two-way message to interact with parents one-to-one.

Parents can opt to receive an email with a link to read without having to log in or they can choose to read a text message or app notification.

Parents can also choose to receive their notifications in a digest format. With a digest format, parents will receive all notifications from the day at a specified time, rather than receiving notifications that are dispersed throughout the day.

Signing up for events and sending RSVPs have never been easier.

Why choose ParentSquare?

Technology tools like ParentSquare provide so many benefits for schools and families. By using ParentSquare, schools can provide a more consistent, effective and reliable way to facilitate higher engagement and better communication between school and home. Parents will appreciate having one tool with multiple functions that help to bridge the gap that can happen when using multiple apps or means of communication within the same school setting. School to home communication and collaboration is at the heart of ParentSquare.

Sign up for a demo today and stay tuned for the next post which will highlight some of the features of ParentSquare and how to get started.